Neuqua Valley running back Jaden McGee understands the stakes.
“Especially at my position in the recruiting process, I know speed goes a long way,” he said. “I’ve gotten faster, and I want to showcase that this season.”
As a junior, McGee was almost enough in his varsity debut, proving to be a powerful two-way threat with size and speed.
The 6-foot, 195-pound McGee totaled 1,057 yards rushing and scored 10 TDs for the Wildcats (10-2), who reached the Class 8A state quarterfinals.
College football recruiting, however, has grown into a year-round industry.
One of the most recent developments has been the rise of “mega camps” — showcase events that bring in similar-sized college programs from across the country to observe and analyze prospects at a single location.
Last week, McGee participated in a mega camp at North Central College in Naperville.
“The whole process is very exciting because you get to compete against the other best players around,” he said. “In order to be the best, you have to be able to compete against them or even beat them.”
McGee secured his first formal offer in May from Minnesota State, an NCAA Division II power.
“I have a lot of interest off my season from last year,” he said. “I am going to have an even better season this year.”
McGee also is set to attend similar camps at Western Illinois and Central Michigan.
Visibility is the first step. He wants to follow that up by displaying his versatility, toughness and intangibles.
“I know it’s good when coaches come out, watch you compete and play at the highest level,” he said.
Last season, McGee earned all-conference and all-area recognition. He believes that was the prelude.
“I just want to continue to do what I do,” he said. “I don’t have to change anything because I feel like I’ve gotten better.”
Wildcats on the move: Several of McGee’s former senior teammates from Neuqua made college choices official.
Nicholas Gallegos, an offensive tackle who posted an 87% effective block rate, committed to Eastern Michigan. Quarterback RJ Cluxton committed to Benedictine.
Carter Sessa, who had five interceptions at defensive back and seven receiving touchdowns, committed to Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Sessa is rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered playing lacrosse in the spring.
Trio of Warriors: Three recent Waubonsie Valley graduates made college choices official.
Defensive tackle Jose Barragan, who posted 37 tackles and five tackles for loss last season, committed to Benedictine.
Linebacker Austin Jackson committed to Illinois Wesleyan and wide receiver Vincent Couch committed to Millikin.
Tyler Helbing, a standout receiver in football and a three-year starter at forward in basketball, has elected to attend Illinois as a student.
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Standing out at signal caller: Benet quarterback Anthony Picciolini also attended the camp at North Central College. He finished up with a strong weekend performance at Lake Forest College.
“Getting in front of these coaches is important, especially when it is so close to home,” he said.
In Naperville, Picciolini threw for representatives from North Dakota, Eastern Illinois, Harvard and Cornell. At Lake Forest, he performed for Dayton and Western Illinois.
“I had a lot of positive feedback from coaches, with the biggest positive being my arm strength and footwork,” he said. “The most important thing to work on is probably accuracy.”
The summer circuit is unrelenting. Picciolini is set to attend another camp Saturday at Northwestern.
“I want to play college football so badly,” he said. “The most eye-opening part is having the patience to get an offer and take my time with the process.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.